It all comes down to this.
The 2011 3A State Championship will be decided Friday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. The 12-0 Hurricane Tigers will face a familiar foe, their Region 9 opponent, the 9-3 Desert Hills Thunder.
For the Tigers and Thunder, Friday night’s state championship is what they’ve been striving for every week since August.
Let’s recap how they both got to this point.
The season started quickly for the Tigers, as they jumped all over Skyline, West Jordan, and Tooele, picking up three big wins in the first three weeks of the season, prior to Region 9 play.
The Tigers have only been really challenged once this season, and have only had two games decided by single digits. The first of those games came in week four, when Hurricane beat Cedar by nine. The Tigers then seemed to put it in cruise control for the rest of the region 9 season.
They beat Dixie by 30, then Snow Canyon by 35. They took care of the Panthers of Pine View in week seven, which set them up for a matchup with second place Desert Hills. The Tigers cruised past the Thunder 35-8, and claimed the Region 9 title with the win. They rounded out the regular season with a 44-7 win over Canyon View.
The first round of the playoffs set up the Tigers against the Wasatch Wasps. Hurricane rolled again, 44-7. In the quarterfinals, Hurricane blanked Grantsville, 41-0. Their only close contest of the season came in the semifinal matchup with Spanish Fork. Hurricane slipped past the Dons, 38-35.
Desert Hills 9-3
The season opener set up the Thunder against 5A Syracuse. The Titans got the best of Desert Hills in a narrow 14-12 victory. Desert Hills went on to win their next 6 games. The took care of Nevada’s Moapa Valley Pirates, and the North Sanpete Hawks before beginning region play.
The Thunder rolled against Canyon View, 39-2. They beat the Panthers of Pine View by a touchdown, 21-14. A narrow win against Dixie, 41-38, brought the Thunder to 5-1. They won by three the following week too, Desert Hills 24, Snow Canyon 21.
In week nine, the Thunder welcomed in undefeated Hurricane. A late fourth quarter touchdown helped Desert Hills avoid a shut out. Hurricane 35, Desert Hills 8. In their final game of the regular season, Desert Hills suffered their worst loss of the season against the Cedar Redmen, 48-20.
In the first round of the playoffs, Desert Hills cruised against Park City, 34-14. Their quarterfinal matchup with Stansbury wasn’t any closer. Desert Hills won, 26-7.
An opportunity for redemption showed up with their semifinal matchup against the Cedar Redmen. Desert Hills made the most of that opportunity, winning 23-21 and locking in the team’s first trip to the state championship game in school history.
The Numbers Behind the Game:
Hurricane is statistically the strongest team in 3A. They lead Region 9 in both points scored at 41.1 per game, and points allowed 13.5 per game.
Hurricane averages 396 yards of offense per game, opposed to Desert Hills’ 319.
However, on the opposite side of the ball, Desert Hills only allows 263 yards per game. Hurricane gives up a fraction more at 270.
When it comes to the Hurricane running game, Hurricane again leads the pack with 324 yards per game on the ground. Between Brian Scott and Weston Yardley, slowing down the Tigers is not an easy task.
Desert Hills only allows 144 rushing yards per game, which is the best in Region 9.
Through the air, Desert Hills doubles Hurricane’s production. The Thunder averages 145 yards per game, while Hurricane only gains 71. Their pass defenses are nearly identical, with Hurricane giving up 126 yards and Desert Hills allowing 119.
When it comes to the turnover game, Hurricane only gave up the ball nine times all season. Desert Hills was second in Region 9, with only 17 turnovers through 11 games.
Matchups on the Field:
Scott vs. Needham
The marquee matchup of the state championship is the battle of the running backs. Hurricane is home of arguably the hardest-to-stop running back in the state in Brian Scott. No one in the entire state rushed for more touchdowns than Scott did. With 28 touchdowns through 12 games on the season, his 2.33 TD per game is best. With more than 1,500 rushing yards on the season, no one has had much success slowing down The Beast.
Needham is a feasible foe for Scott. Needham led the Thunder in the ground game. Needham had 14 touchdown on the season and gained over 1,250 yards. Needham and Scott both keep their legs moving, and always manage to pick up a couple extra yards.
Parker & Prince vs. Harris & Brinker
Both teams have a two-headed monster in the quarterback slot. Desert Hills’ one-two punch of Porter Harris and Nate Brinker is one of the best combos in the state. Harris is agile and quick. He can get outside of the pocket and make the defense pay by picking up big yards. Both Thunder QB’s are capable of making throws. Harris has over 1,400 passing yards on the season. When Desert Hills needs to beef up, they can bring in Nate Brinker. Brinker is big and strong and has a cannon for an arm. He’s capable of making big throws, and big plays, as he proved in Friday night’s win against Cedar. Not to mention on defense he has 8.5 sacks this year.
In Hurricane, Taylor Parker and Zac Prince are the two leading the offense. Hurricane is a run-first team. With backs like Scott and Yardley, why wouldn’t you run the ball? But, when the Tigers decide to lob it up, Parker is impressive. He has over 700 passing yards and only one interception.
Rutledge vs. Yardley
Sure, I’ve mentioned Weston Yardley’s name in reference to the Hurricane running game. But offense isn’t all he does. Yardley is third in the entire state in interceptions with nine. Yardley is a legitimate threat on both sides of the ball. He’s got to be a player that Desert Hills can’t overlook, and a player that Hurricane can consider an x-factor.
Rutledge has nearly 600 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on the season. He makes big catches when they’re needed most. He’s a versatile player who can step in at any moment and make a big play.
Edwards vs. Brown & Pope
Defense wins games. Both of these teams have very strong defensive cores. For the Thunder, they’re led by Peter Brown who has 95 tackles, two sacks and an interception on the season. Bud Pope leads the Thunder defense with five interceptions and 42 tackles.
The Tigers have a relentless defense that is strong at every position. Jared Edwards leads the team with 111 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Kevin Mortensen and Bryan Lee are strongholds in the Tiger defense. Mortensen has 73 tackles and 3.5 sacks, while Lee has 54 tackles and 4 sacks.
I don’t see signs of anyone slowing down Hurricane. Behind Scott, Parker, and Yardley, the Hurricane offense is too much for the Thunder defense. After 3 straight defeats in the state championship game, the Tigers will finally be crowned champions with a 41-28 victory.
But, whatever happens, congratulations to both teams on very successful seasons. They both help make Region 9 football fun and exciting.